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Even light drinkers can benefit from cutting consumption: study

AFP-JIJI

A glass or two of booze is good for your heart, so the long-standing medical advice goes. And drinkers are fond of citing it. But a study published on Friday said reducing even light consumption of alcohol will improve your chances against coronary heart disease, help you lose weight and ease high blood pressure.

Writing in the British Medical Journal, researchers reviewed 50 published studies into the drinking habits and health of more than 260,000 people of European descent.

They looked especially at those with a key variant of a gene called ADH1B. Previous research has found that a single change in the DNA code in this gene makes people less sensitive to drink, and thus less at risk from alcoholism.

The new study discovered that individuals with the variant drank 17 percent fewer units of alcohol per week and were 78 percent less likely to binge drink than those without it. They also had a 10 percent lower risk of coronary heart disease and enjoyed lower systolic blood pressure and body mass index.

“This suggests that reduction of alcohol consumption, even for light to moderate drinkers, is beneficial for cardiovascular health,” the study contended.

Juan Casas, a professor of epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who led the probe, said a decades-long belief in the health benefits of light-to-moderate drinking may have been flawed.

“We now have evidence that some of these studies suffer from limitations that may affect the validity of their findings,” he said in a press release. “In our study, we saw a link between a reduced consumption of alcohol and improved cardiovascular health, regardless of whether the individual was a light, moderate or heavy drinker.”

Independent commentators said the study was interesting, not least because it challenged what is now almost a dogma. But, they cautioned, the debate was far from over. They noted the study was based only a statistical approach — it was not designed to explore exactly why those with the ADH1B variant were healthier.

There could be causes that apply only to them, and not people without the variant, which makes general advice on drinking a risky business.

“People with genes for alcohol intolerance may . . . have other unmeasured behaviors or traits that reduce heart disease,” Tim Spector, a professor of genetic epidemiology at King’s College London, told Britain’s Science Media Centre. “A good example might be if they also had different gut microbes which prevented heart disease.”

Light to moderate drinking is generally considered to be consumption of between 12 and 25 alcoholic units per week.

By way of comparison, a 330-milliliter (11-ounce) glass of lager with 5 percent alcohol content has 1.6 alcoholic units, and a small 125-ml glass of wine with 12 percent alcohol content carries 1.5 units.